Evers' Widow: "You Did Not Die In Vain"

At her husband's graveside at Arlington National ceremony, Myrlie Evers tells him he did not die in vain.
For a younger generation of Americans, the inauguration of President Barack Obama sends a powerful message.

"It puts a face on everything you've been taught and everything you hear," says Courtney Cockrell. "There's no better role model than the president of the United States."

Courtney and Corrie Cockrell, 27-year-old twins from Jackson, Miss., were inspired by what they saw on Nov. 4, 2008.

"It was just amazing, really, to just see the country come together and to see people put things that don't matter aside, and look at him for the man that he is and the leader that he his," Courtney says.

Corrie and Courtney know the historic vote that put the Obama family in the White House could never have happened without the help from their family.

"Uncle Medgar -- I just can imagine him, you know, just being so proud of us to see the country come together," Courtney says. Adds Corrie Cockrell, "I think he would say, 'job well done.'"

More than 40 years ago, their great uncle, Medgar Evers, was denied admission to the University of Mississippi Law School -- the same school from which his twin nieces graduated -- simply because he was black.

"He knew that there were things that needed to be done and he was willing to do them no matter what," Corrie says.

Long before Barack Obama rallied a nation for change, Evers was willing to risk his life for it. In the segregated South during the 1950s and 60s, his wife Myrlie knew her husband's dreams for equality were dangerous.

"Medgar was unusual in the sense that he was so committed to justice and equality and willing to pay the price -- knowing full well that at that particular time and in Mississippi, he was putting his life on the line," she says.

It was ugly chapter in our nation's history, a time when African-Americans were lynched, beaten and killed because of the color of their skin.

Medgar Evers struggled to abolish laws that oppressed blacks. As a leader in the NAACP, he knew the real power was in the vote.

"We are not just interested in voting so that conditions can be improved for Negroes. We want conditions improved for everybody," Evers said on a 1962 broadcast of CBS Reports.

Myrlie Evers says getting people registered to vote was a big part of her husband's life.

"A major, major part of his effort, but the power was in the vote. The power was elusive," she says, "because of the fear people had."

In the 1962 interview Evers said, "I've had a number of threatening phone calls. People calling me saying they were going to kill me. Saying they were going to blow up my home up and saying that I only had a few hours to live."

"It almost sounded as if he knew," says CBS News correspondent Harold Dow. Myrlie says "he did."

On June 12, 1963, a young Myrlie Evers and her three children were inside the family home in Jackson, Miss.

The children knew the sound of Daddy's car and she recalls the kids saying, "Here comes Daddy. Here comes Daddy."

"…and it pulled in the driveway behind my car and wham."

Medgar Evers was shot in cold blood by a white supremacist in the driveway of his home. He was just 37 years old. It would take another 30 years to bring his killer to justice.

Myrlie says she remembers "almost everything" about the day her husband was assassinated. "How he kissed the children and how he kissed me. How he walked out of the door, got in the car, came back in then embraced us all again."

At that moment, Myrlie went from wife to widow and her life changed forever. She took up her husband's cause for change and became the first woman to lead the NAACP.

Last year, Myrlie joined another cause -- Barack Obama's run for the White House. She was a powerful reminder to the candidate that he is standing on the shoulders of all those who fought and died for civil rights.

"I said to him, 'I want you know that I keep you and your family in my prayers on a daily basis, as I do with my own children.' He looked me in the eye, without a smile, dead serious and he said, 'please keep me in your prayers.'"

Medgar Evers' daughter, Reena, son, Van, and three grandchildren feel a connection to the new First Family.

"They do look very similar as to how they carry themselves, even to the point of how they sit and cross their legs," Reena says.

Adds Myrlie, "I saw a photograph of Obama playing basketball. This man's feet were off of the floor, he was reaching for that ball, had it in the grasp of his hands and I said, 'You know what? I see him as a leader, and that's the world that's in his hands ... When the news commentators came on and said it's over, he's won this race, I buried my head in my hands and tears began to fall. I couldn't stop them and I said, 'Medgar do you see? Do you see what has happened?'"

On the day before the inauguration, Myrlie Evers went to Arlington National Cemetery to give her husband the news. "We made it. Obama made it," she tells him.

And in the nation's capitol on the historic day, the Evers family is witness to history.

"All persons should have an opportunity to register and vote and to do the things that the Constitution guarantees them," Evers said in 1962.

"I understand now," she tells her husband, "that you did not die in vain."